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Dec. 3, 2020
Notes from the Pentagon

Defense Policy Board purged

By Bill Gertz
After this column first disclosed the large number of pro-China officials and holdovers from the Obama administration sitting on the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, the board has been belatedly purged and new advisers will be named in the coming days.

“I am grateful to the departing board members, many of whom have served for decades,” acting Secretary of Defense Christopher C. Miller told Inside the Ring. “As we adapt the [Defense] Department for great-power competition, I look forward to naming new board members in the coming days.”

The advisory board in the past has played a key role in advising the undersecretary of defense for policy. Board members were given access to classified intelligence reports.

A defense official said: “As part of long-considered changes, several members of the Department’s Defense Policy Board have been removed.” The official provided no other details.

In total, 10 of the 13 board members have left, including Democrats and Republicans. The most significant board member purged was former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, considered by critics to be the architect of the appeasement policies toward China that dominated successive Republican and Democratic administrations for decades until the Trump administration.

Former Democratic officials who were removed include former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Justice Department official Jamie Gorelick, former Rep. Jane Harmon of California, and former Deputy Defense Secretary Rudy DeLeon, now part of the liberal Center for American Progress.

Republicans taken off the board included former arms control and Pentagon policy official J.D. Crouch, former Undersecretary of State Robert Joseph, and former House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia. Retired Adm. Gary Roughead, a former chief of naval operations, also left the board.

Those remaining on the board, according to the website of the undersecretary of defense for policy, include Paula Dobriansky, a conservative former Reagan White House official and undersecretary of state; former GOP Sen. Jim Talent of Missouri and David McCormack, a former undersecretary of Treasury in the George W. Bush administration.

The overhaul reportedly was outlined in a directive sent from Pentagon White House liaison official Joshua Whitehouse on Nov. 25 and came a week after President Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper. Acting Undersecretary of Defense for Policy James Anderson also opposed plans to revamp the board membership. Mr. Anderson resigned the same day Mr. Esper was fired.

Mr. Miller, the acting defense secretary, is expected to make additional changes at the Pentagon that will seek to better align the Pentagon policy bureaucracy with a Trump administration that could be in its final weeks.

William C. Triplett II, former chief Republican counsel for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he believes the board should be made up of mainly supporters of the current administration, with some representatives of previous administrations.

Mr. Triplett said many of the experts and former officials on the board during the Trump administration represented “the antithesis” of the administration‘s policies.

Views on China did not seem to be the sole criterion for cleaning house. Mr. McCormick, who remains listed on the board, is the CEO of Bridgewater Associates, a hedge fund with extensive ties to China.

A commission of China specialists this week made public its annual report that highlights the growing land-based anti-ship missile threat posed by the People’s Liberation Army.

“Critical to China‘s anti-access and area denial capabilities are ground-launched antiship missiles, primarily operated by the PLA Rocket Force,” said the report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. “These missiles, along with weapons systems operated by the PLA Navy, are well-tailored for a high-end kinetic conflict against the U.S. Navy.”

China‘s military writings frequently mention plans by the Rocket Force to strike U.S. aircraft carriers and Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.

The PLA also has described in detail how in a future conflict with the United States there are plans to “strike links in the U.S. Aegis radar system used on U.S. and allied ships.”

“The PLA Navy also invested heavily in anti-air naval capabilities suited to counter U.S. carrier aviation and by building a flotilla of ships with area air defense capabilities.”

The Chinese navy has expanded its fleet of warships equipped with area air defense weapons from none in 1996 to 20 in 2018, including 14 Type 052D destroyers with extended range anti-aircraft missile capabilities.

Land-based anti-ship missiles currently deployed by China include upgraded variants of the HY-2, HY-3 and HY-4 missiles, as well as YJ-62, YJ-82, YJ-83 long-range anti-ship missiles.

The PLA’s ground-launched anti-ship missiles also include the medium-range DF-21 and 3,100-mile-range DF-26. In August, China fired four DF-21 into the South China Sea during an exercise.

To bolster defenses of Taiwan, the U.S. government announced in October the proposed sale to Taipei of 100 Harpoon Coastal Defense Systems (HCDS) and 400 RGM-84L-4 Harpoon Block II Surface-Launched Missiles — advanced weapons capable of destroying Chinese ships halfway across the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait.

The sale is worth an estimated $2.4 billion.

No other military in the world is conducting as many ballistic missile tests as the People’s Liberation Army, a testing regime that has continued despite the pandemic, which has limited the number of U.S. missile tests. As of October, China has conducted 180 tests of ballistic missiles.

The congressional commission report this week was the first to report on the growing land-based anti-ship missile force that complements China‘s warship-based anti-ship missile arsenal. The Pentagon’s most recent annual report on the Chinese military made scant mention of the threat.

The U.S. government needs to better understand how foreign enemies are using disinformation as a strategic weapon and take steps to counter those threats, according to a former Air Force special operations airman.

Ethan Brown, writing on the website of West Point’s Modern War Institute, argues that the United States is “mired in a pre-conflict, shaping operation — an operation whose goal is undermining the legitimacy of our systems.”

American systems of government are vulnerable to disinformation, and the next administration should take steps to restore the credibility of government institutions by strengthening the security architecture against foreign actors.

“Interference and disinformation from adversaries remain a bet-worthy reality going forward,” Mr. Brown said.

The current U.S. counterdisinformation policy was outlined in a single amendment to the 2017 defense policy bill and reflected the Cold War-era policies that fail to understanding current threats.

The 2018 National Defense Strategy also failed to recognize that “disinformation presents a tremendous threat to national security,” Mr. Brown said.

The Air Force’s plan for Joint All-Domain Command and Control architecture to protect war-fighting data is a beginning.

“Yet what is necessary, now and henceforth, is to treat shaping operations such as disinformation as viable threats to our national security,” Mr. Brown said. “In the case of disinformation and shaping operations, adversaries like China are already practicing information-driven means of resetting the world order.”

The Pentagon has implemented a doctrine to deal with military-specific information operations, including computer network operations, psychological operations, military deception and electronic warfare. However, those efforts are limited to the military and will not be able to deal with the vulnerability of the nation to disinformation.

Mr. Brown urged making counterdisinformation a publicized, transparent, credible function through formal government policies.

“The new administration would benefit tremendously from openly implementing formal policy that signals a direct, concentrated challenge to malicious actors in the information arena,” he said.

“Most importantly, it must be overt, and the goals must be clear and transparent for the American people.

“By adopting a formal, transparent policy that puts adversaries on notice, facilitates improved collaboration between public and private parties while safeguarding the privacy of citizens, and [promotes] improved coordination among democratic partners, the incoming administration will be able to seize the initiative and reduce the influence of malicious information actors,” he said.

Mr. Brown is currently a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. He served in the Air Force from 2009 to 2020 as a special warfare tactical air control party — troops used on the ground to call in airstrikes.

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